FWIW: Republicans' online border pivot

As President Biden touts early successes, Republicans are changing the conversation to immigration.

As the Biden administration is scoring key victories in addressing the ongoing pandemic and associated economic crisis facing our nation (100M 💉 in 💪 weeks ahead of schedule!),  Republicans have been eager to refocus their messaging on literally anything else. Maybe predictably, right-wing politicians, media, and political groups are attempting to pivot the public’s attention to the Southern border as they’ve done time and time again. At the same time, immigrant rights advocates on the Hill set their sights on big legislative moves this week, culminating in the House passing the Dream and Promise Act in a bipartisan vote last night.

In this week’s FWIW, we look at how the Republican party and its allies have attempted to refocus the public’s attention onto the border, and are using digital ads and other content online to attack the Biden administration and Democrats on the issue of immigration.

But first...

By the numbers

Here are the top spenders on political Google ads from March 7th to March 13th:

The conservative American Action Network was briefly online running ads against swing-district House members who voted *for* the American Rescue Plan. (Weird flex, but ok.) From March 9-10th, they spent $13,000 on YouTube and Google Search ads criticizing these members’ support for the ARP, but the limited digital spending makes us think this was mostly for show.

Not for show, however, are a host of new ads from Democratic committees, campaigns, and affiliated groups touting the ARP. The DCCC has launched a new set of ads thanking vulnerable members for their votes, along with some on Facebook from the brand, Health Care Voter.

FWIW, here are the top spenders on political Facebook ads from March 7th to March 13th:

While it’s still pretty early in most states to have frontrunner U.S. Senate candidates, or any candidates at all, John Fetterman’s 2022 campaign in Pennsylvania has hit the ground running. The election he’s running in won’t take place for another 21 months, but that hasn’t stopped their campaign from being the biggest political ad spender on Facebook since ads resumed on March 4th.

And to the credit of Fetterman’s campaign and their supporting team at Middle Seat, their digital paid media campaign is pretty . They’re running some adorable fundraising and acquisition ads right now featuring the candidate’s dog, taking the boop-the-dog’s-nose tactic from their website and mapping it onto their fundraising ads. Another thing we love about their online approach so far: a Messenger integration on their website that puts you into direct contact with their virtual organizer. 

Finally, here are the top spenders on Snapchat so far this year: (You may notice that ACLU’s spending total is lower than last week’s - that’s because we adjusted our process to properly exclude all spending before Jan. 6th.)

Republicans’ online border pivot

Republicans have long used lies and manufactured chaos on the issue of immigration to manipulate the public and score political points (see: Trump’s 2015 campaign launch speech). Now, as the Biden administration is focused on communicating their remarkable progress in the fight against coronavirus, Hill Republicans and their allies in right-wing media in are mobilizing to run the same familiar playbook. GOP Leader McCarthy even took a delegation to the border this week to stage a photo-op and press availability.

Border stuntin’

This week, the American Action Network, a conservative 501c4 nonprofit, began to spend on Facebook ads targeting potentially vulnerable House Democrats with messages attacking them for Biden’s border response so far. They’re calling the increase in youth migrants the “Biden border crisis.”

Elected Republicans are also using Facebook ads to push this rhetoric with little evidence to back it up, as usual. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is actually advertising his recent delegation to the border to get more “likes” on his page. Multiple GOP House members and right wing media sites have singularly focused on the word “crisis”, and the administration’s supposed reluctance to use the term in their messaging. This has now predictably jumped from far-right outlets and GOP talking points to more mainstream media, leading POLITICO’s Playbook this morning. 😑

Elsewhere on social media

Unsurprisingly, the most engaging content on this issue on both Facebook and Instagram is being pushed by Republicans and Fox News pundits. We looked at the top performing posts by interactions with “border” and “immigrants” as keywords, and found that right-wing, anti-immigrant content remains dominant. Here’s how it breaks down, according to data from CrowdTangle:


Again, not surprising that the GOP propaganda machine dominates the online conversation, but we were really struck by the fact that their Facebook content about the border has gotten more than three times as much engagement as their content about immigrants. We suspect that because rhetoric and imagery around the Southern border has been dramatized by the Right for decades, posts about it are favored by Facebook’s pro-controversy algorithms. Much of it is not-so-subtly racist and/or misleading, but here’s a taste of what’s circulating among hundreds of thousands of users: 


That’s it for this week! Have an issue or topic you want us to cover? Send us an email! And be sure to share this with your networks by clicking the button below!

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